Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak and winter’

Winter Conditions Cause More Service Disruptions

February 18, 2021

Harsh winter weather continued to lead to delays and cancellations for Amtrak on Wednesday, including in the Midwest.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said a week of temperatures near zero caused a series of “weather-related equipment issues.”

A Chicago-Port Huron, Michigan Blue Water round trip was cancelled on Wednesday as a result.

Reportedly, the problem involved the train’s two Charger locomotives and Amtrak maintenance was unable to fix the issue.

The same day the Chicago-bound Pere Marquette, which originates in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was terminated at its first intermediate stop in Hollard, Michigan, due to equipment problems.

Passengers were transferred to a bus to complete their journey to their destination.

Several corridor and long-distance trains that did operate on Tuesday and Wednesday encountered lengthy departure delays from Chicago.

After a late Tuesday arrival in Chicago from Carbondale, Illinois, the Saluki was canceled on Wednesday and its counterpart to Carbondale, the Illini, was cancelled that day.

Both trains were cancelled on Wednesday. Reportedly the problem that led to the cancellation of the Illini was a computer issue on the locomotive that locked up the brakes so that they would not release.

Elsewhere, Amtrak canceled trains in Virginia and the Carolinas ahead of a winter storm expected to bring ice and snow to the region.

The Auto Train was cancelled in both directions on today. Also cancelled were trains that terminate at Norfolk, Newport News, and Roanoke in Virginia, and the Palmetto to Savannah, Georgia.

The northbound counterparts to these trains have been cancelled for Thursday and Friday.

In the West the Coast Starlight has resumed operating over its entire route.

However, Wednesday departures of the Sunset Limited from Los Angeles and New Orleans were cancelled.

The Texas Eagle will originate in San Antonio, Texas, on Friday as scheduled. The westbound Texas Eagle will resume departing from Chicago on Friday.

The Oklahoma City-Fort Worth, Texas, Heartland Flyer remains suspended until Feb. 20.

Winter Leads to Delays, Cancellations

February 17, 2021

Harsh winter weather led to lengthy delays for Amtrak’s eastern long-distance trains and the cancellation of some western long-distance services.

Among the trains that were canceled were the Heartland Flyer, Feb. 14-16; Texas Eagle, Feb. 14 and Feb. 16 in both directions; Sunset Limited, eastbound on Feb. 14 and westbound on Feb. 15; Coast Starlight, cancelled between Portland, Oregon, and Sacramento, California, on Feb. 15; Southwest Chief, Feb. 14 in both directions; and the City of New Orleans, southbound on Feb. 15 and northbound on Feb. 17.

Some trains that continued to operate were subject to lengthy delays.

The Coast Starlight that departed Seattle last Saturday was more than 15 hours late arriving in Los Angeles and more than 25 hours late reaching Seattle on Sunday.

The delays were prompted by heavy snow and downed trees between Portland and Eugene, Oregon.

Those same conditions led to the lone daily Cascades Service train between Seattle and Eugene to operate only between Portland and Seattle on Saturday and to be cancelled on Sunday.

The Empire Builder was more than six hours late reach both Chicago and Seattle on Saturday.

The eastbound Lake Snore Limited was held for 39 minutes on Saturday to accommodate connecting passengers from inbound No. 8.

The eastbound California Zephyr was more than four late into Chicago on Monday.

Trains along the Atlantic Seaboard also suffered lengthy delays, including the Carolinian from New York and Charlotte, North Carolina; and the Palmetto between New York and Savannah, Georgia.

The northbound Palmetto that is scheduled to reach New York at 11:56 p.m. on Sunday arrived Monday at 8:03 a.m.

Aside from weather issues the train was stalled by freight train interference and delays in changing crews en route.

Also affected were the Auto Train and Silver Star.

If Coal Can Move in the Cold Why Can’t Passengers?

February 6, 2019

Amtrak has caught flak in recent years for canceling trains during winter weather.

Whatever happened to passenger trains being able to barrel through snow or other winter weather?

As Jim Matthews sees it, Amtrak’s winter cancellations are being prompted by changes in how railroads operate.

Writing on the website of the Rail Passengers Association, Mathews said it comes down to the reluctance of railroads to spend money.

“Railroads today are hyper-focused on operating ratios and holding lots of resources and manpower in reserve to keep the trains running in unusual conditions breaks that formula,” the president of RPA wrote.

That means fewer maintenance crews available to send out for such things as frozen switches and rails breaks.

“When something breaks in the cold, those gangs have to travel longer just to reach the problem area and they’re spread more thinly than ever before,” Mathews wrote.

He noted that back in the day railroads sometimes hired “casual labor” to help shovel snow.

But in today’s more highly regulated environment that might expose a railroad to liability issues not to mention bad press and social media that didn’t exist in the past.

“And in this age of social media, that’s all Amtrak needs: Someone live-tweeting a rare cold-related tragedy,” Mathews wrote.

When temperatures plunge well below zero there are legitimate safety concerns for workers who have to assemble and maintain trains at terminals.

Cold weather also can play havoc with operating conditions.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magilari was quoted in a news story about the spate of recent cancellations of trains serving Chicago as saying Amtrak feared its trains would get stuck in heavy freight traffic and be unable to get around slow moving trains ahead. He attributed that to the tendency of the host railroads to fleet their freight trains.

Although Magliari didn’t say it in so many words, I wonder if pressure from host railroads prods Amtrak to scale back operations when the weather turns bad.

Yet that doesn’t explain why in the Northeast Corridor Amtrak has curtailed service during winter storms that in the past railroads would have just operated right through.

Amtrak management has increasingly become risk averse. The best way to avoid a worst case scenario is to stay out of a position in which a number of factors could combine to cause one to happen.

It might be unlikely that a train will get stuck for hours with no heat or food, but it could happen. You can avoid such a catastrophe by keeping trains in their terminals until the storm blows over.

Better to have people sitting at home because they couldn’t travel than having to deal with a station full of people with nowhere to go because they missed their connection due to their train running hours late.

Better to rebook passengers or, maybe, refund their money than to have to answer to a horde of social media reports about passengers stranded in subzero weather.

There also are logistical headaches that Amtrak has to take into account, such as getting new crews to a train halted because the previous crew ran afoul of the federal hours of service law. These are not always easy problems to resolve so why risk them in the first place.

The interests of Amtrak management do not always align with the interests of those who pay money to Amtrak to provide them transportation. That is not unique to Amtrak. It’s true of every organization that does business with the public.

I live in an apartment building with a view of the two busiest railroads mainlines in Cleveland.

During the most recent bout of sub-zero weather I stayed inside as much as I could.

Yet I couldn’t help but notice that freight traffic on those CSX and Norfolk Southern lines next to my building seemed to be business as usual.

It does make you wonder why if railroads can move coal, manifest freight, tank cars and double-stacked containers despite the realities of severe winter weather why can’t Amtrak move passengers.

Amtrak Weathered Winter Storm Fairly Well

January 17, 2019

Amtrak service held up reasonably well during a recent major winter storm that buried the nation’s midsection in double digit measurements of snow last weekend.

Trains magazine reported just two trains were canceled, the morning Missouri River Runners in both directions on Jan. 12 and the Cardinal east of Indianapolis on Jan. 13.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the decision to scrub the Missouri River Runners was made after the passenger carrier consulted with Union Pacific and the Missouri Department of Transportation.

As for the Cardinal cancellation, Magliari said that came because heavy snowfall had been forecast in isolated areas of West Virginia along the route of No. 50.

As it was, No. 50 was two hours late arriving after encountering a mechanical problem near Lafayette, Indiana.

Trains said that most trains on Midwest corridor routes radiating from Chicago to St. Louis and the Illinois cities of Quincy and Carbondale ran on time.

The westbound Southwest Chief, though, lost three hours on Saturday between Galesburg, Illinois, and Fort Madison, Iowa.

Along the Atlantic seaboard, some trains incurred significant delays, including more than two hours for the southbound Palmetto and Carolinian,

The northbound Silver Star was combined with the Carolinian out of Richmond, Virginia.

The southbound Silver Meteor was nearly three hours late when it left Washington.

A blast of frigid arctic air combined with heavy snow in some regions are being forecast for this week.

Wolverine Service Train Delayed 12 Hours on Monday

January 2, 2018

Passengers aboard Wolverine Service No. 354 were delayed by 12 hours on New Year’s Day due to weather and mechanical issues.

The delays began in Chicago where the train was scheduled to depart at 6 p.m. but didn’t get out of the station until 8:25 p.m. due to mechanical issues with the locomotive.

Severe winter weather that affected a switch then delayed the train by another hour between 10:45 p.m. and 11:45 p.m. near New Buffalo, Michigan.

The train sat in Kalamazoo, where it arrived at 1 a.m., for four hours until a relief crew arrived after the original crew ran afoul of the hours of service law.

Leaving Kalamazoo at 5:30 a.m., the train then stopped at Albion two hours later where another crew took over the train. It arrived in Pontiac at 1:42 p.m. The scheduled arrival time is 1:17 a.m.

The train had about 148 passengers aboard, Amtrak said.

Kicking Up a Little Snow

February 27, 2017


Contrary to appearances, this image of Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited was made in April.

No. 48 is running several hours late as it kicks up the snow in Berea, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. Snow in Northeast Ohio, even heavy snow, during April is not unusual.

I didn’t know that No. 48 was running late. I might have learned about it from a radio transmission or simply seeing an Amtrak train come around the bend.

We don’t always get this much snow in April, but it happens. The photo was made on April 7, 2007, and was scanned from a slide.

Severe Cold Taking Toll on Amtrak Operations

February 27, 2015

The brutal cold that has gripped the eastern United States in an icy vise has taken a toll on Amtrak trains serving Northeast Ohio.

All Aboard Ohio, a rail passenger advocacy group, said that delays of five hours for the westbound Lake Shore Limited have been common in the past week.

The group noted that on Wednesday night the eastbound Lake Shore Limited departed Chicago Union Station 5 hours, 47 minutes late.

No. 48 was more than six hours late when it met and passed No. 49 between Sandusky and Toledo at about 10 a.m. No. 49 at the time was operating more than four hours late.

The Lake Shore Limited operates between Chicago and New York with a section to and from Boston that joins the train at Albany-Rensselaer, N.Y.

Since Feb. 20, All Aboard Ohio said the average delays for trains serving Northeast Ohio have been:

  • Train 49 arriving Chicago: 5 hours, 57 minutes late
  • Train 48 arriving New York City: 4 hours, 15 minutes late
  • Train 30 arriving Washington D.C.: 2 hours, 44 minutes late
  • Train 29 arriving Chicago: 2 hours, 11 minutes late

Amtrak has also canceled the Boston section, citing severe winter weather across New England. It has provided substitute bus service between Albany and Boston to connect with trains 48/49.

In the meantime, the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal has been truncated since a Feb. 16 derailment of a CSX crude oil train in West Virginia.

Nos. 50 and 51 have been operating only between Chicago and Indianapolis. Buses have then taken passengers between Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

However, Amtrak has not provided substitute bus service between Cincinnati and Charlottesville, Va.

One track at the derailment site opened on Thursday, but early Friday morning the Amtrak website still showed the westbound Cardinal that was scheduled to depart from New York for Chicago today as being canceled.

Amtrak is accepting reservations for the next westbound No. 51, which will depart New York on Sunday morning.

In a news release, All Aboard Ohio said that some of the reasons for the delays are beyond Amtrak’s control

These include speed restrictions as low as 25 mph imposed by CSX and Norfolk Southern because they fear the cold will crack their seamless welded steel rails.

But the advocacy group said that other delays are Amtrak’s responsibility. These include equipment malfunctions, locomotives that have failed en route, doors between rail cars freezing into the open position, and cold temperatures inside passenger cars that led to toilets, pipes and water tanks to freeze and rupture.

“This is downright offensive to the traveling public,” said All Aboard Ohio Executive Director Ken Prendergast. “Amtrak President Joe Boardman must be held to account for this, starting with a personal apology to all passengers who had to endure this pathetic excuse for transportation in a civilized nation. It is clear by their poor performance that these trains are being neglected by Amtrak and its private-sector partners who own and manage the tracks. Rail transportation used to be largely indifferent to bad winter weather. Nowadays, the railroads can’t seem to get their trains through the snow and cold.”

Amtrak Ran Mostly OT Despite Winter Storm

February 3, 2015

With some exceptions, Amtrak performed well during the severe winter conditions that struck the Midwest last weekend.

That was in contrast to a day last month when many trains left Chicago Union Station hour late if they left at all.

This past Monday, eight of Amtrak’s 28 trains out of Chicago left more than 10 minutes late.

One notable exception was a Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service train that broke down. As a result the Hiawathas suffered a cascading series of delays.

The problems began when southbound No. 338 became disabled south of Sturtevant, Wis., Monday afternoon and arrived in Chicago at 10:17 p.m. nearly 6 hours late. Reportedly, the train did not lose heat or lighting.

Train No. 340, the next Milwaukee departure, coupled on to the disabled consist, but the delay caused that train to arrive three hours late. Amtrak created a makeshift consist to pull the 5:08 p.m. Chicago departure of No. 339 for Milwaukee. This train, which does a heavy commuter business, left Chicago at 7 p.m.

That equipment consist arrived back in Chicago after 10:30 p.m. on Monday.

Modification of Amtrak’s P42 locomotive traction motors, winterizing of freeze-prone Horizon fleet cars and a revised inspection building procedures for train servicing in Chicago helped Amtrak to maintain reliability.

Superliner coaches that were removed from long-distance trains last month during the low travel season have been placed on Wolverine Service Nos. 350 and 355, Chicago-Quincy, Ill., Nos. 380 and 381, and Chicago-Carbondale, Ill., Nos. 390 and 393.

When corridor train consists are turned at their endpoints, Amtrak has been running locomotives at the front of each train to minimize traction motor snow ingestion.

BNSF closed its Mendota Subdivision on Monday between Aurora and Galesburg, Ill., forcing Amtrak to cancel the morning Chicago-Quincy services in each direction.

The line reopened that afternoon. The inbound and outbound California Zephyr and Southwest Chief operated close to on time.

BNSF feared a repeat of a January 2014 incident in which three Amtrak trains became stranded in snow drifts near Princeton, Ill.

The weekend storm dumped 19 inches of snow at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, resulting in the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

Amtrak Efforts to Avoid Winter Mechanical Issues May Not be Working as Quite as Well as Intended

January 11, 2015

Although it received the most attention, the Lake Shore Limited that departed Chicago more than 13 hours late last week was not the only train that day that left behind schedule.

Only eight of Amtrak’s 29 scheduled daily trains departed that day on time.

The problems with winter-induced mechanical problems also occurred despite Amtrak taking several measure before winter began to avoid a repeat of the problems that has hindered operation of its trains in the past.

Trains magazine reported that Amtrak has refused multiple requests to explain the nature of the locomotive problems that caused No. 48 to depart Thursday at 11:08 a.m. That train, which arrived in Cleveland after 8 p.m., did not reach New York Penn Station until 9:20 a.m. on Friday. That was nearly 15 hours late.

Last Wednesday, 14 of Amtrak’s Amtrak Chicago departures left the terminal more than a hour late.

Aside from the Lake Shore Limited, the Empire Builder left for Seattle and Portland at 8:08 p.m., nearly 6 hours late. The Los Angeles-bound Southwest Chief got out of town after a delay of 5 hours and 23 minutes, getting the highball at 8:23 p.m. The problems with the Lake Shore Limited began with its inbound counterpart was more than 4 hours late arriving.

No. 48 left once, but was turned back by Norfolk Southern because the Amtrak operating crew was on short time.

Amtrak was deadheading a new crew from Toledo for No. 48 aboard the westbound Capitol Limited and wanted to put that crew aboard when the trains met. But NS nixed that idea so No. 48 backed up into the station and didn’t leave for another three hours.

Trains reported that as part of Amtrak’s preparation for the winter of 2014-2015 Amtrak replaced the traction motors in its General Electric P42DC locomotives with newer models that were supposed to fend off short-circuiting ground faults caused by the ingestion of fine snow. The magazine said that anecdotal evidence suggests that that fix hasn’t worked and as occurred last winter Amtrak lacks enough engines ready in Chicago to stand in for those that are disabled. Trains reported that P42 locomotives can’t be freely substitute for each other because they are captive to routes that have signaling systems unique to the train’s route.

For example, the motive power on the Southwest Chief must have ex-Santa Fe Automatic Train Stop pickup shoes attached to its trucks

Trains operating between Chicago and St. Louis, and on the Chicago-Michigan routes must be equipped with different forms of Incremental Train Control cab signaling for 110 mph operation. The Empire Builder has performed remarkably well despite having to run through double-digit below zero temperatures and snowy conditions in Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana.

Through late last week, No. 8 had arrived early into Chicago five times and was less than about an hour late on the other three occasions.

It remains to be seen if the train can sustain that performance once about 3 hours of eastbound recovery time is removed from the schedule that was added last April. Elsewhere,  winter conditions plagued various rail operations. On New Jersey Transit, trains were affected when the cold caused mechanical issues with the overhead wires that power the trains.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s trains were affected by concerns over cracked rails and air brake systems leading to slower operating speeds.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority—which serves the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia—saw five of its six metro rail lines suffer significant delays. Virginia Railway Express, which also serves Virginia and the District of Columbia, experienced problems as well.

Amtrak Restores All Canceled Midwest Trains

January 29, 2014

Amtrak announced on Tuesday that it will operate its full schedule of trains to and from Chicago on Wednesday, Jan. 29.
The railroad warned that “residual delays” are possible due to a logjam of freight traffic on various Amtrak routes as the freight railroads also seek to get back to normal.

Amtrak urged passengers to check on the status of their train before traveling.

Passengers who have paid but choose not to travel due to this service disruption can receive a refund or a voucher for future travel. Some reservations booked online can be modified or canceled on or by using the free Amtrak mobile app.